Women, African Americans and Latinos are significantly underrepresented in venture capital. Few have decision-making authority, according to a report from the National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion.
A new wave of venture capital firms and a new generation of venture capitalists are shaking up the status quo, USA Today reported.
Precursor Ventures may not be a big name in venture capital, but it has a big mission: to make sure more startup founders from diverse backgrounds get an equal chance for venture capital investment.
Kapor Capital wants its portfolio companies to make progress in the areas of diversity and inclusion, so it launched a Founders’ Commitment — a roadmap for startups to foster diverse and inclusive cultures early on.
“The fastest, simplest way to change the composition of the tech industry is to change who gets to make funding and hiring decisions,” Precursor Managing Partner Charles Hudson said in a USA Today interview. “I think we have ample evidence as to what the status quo produces and I don’t expect significant change in outcomes until we have a more diverse set of leaders in positions of influence and authority.”
These are 11 black tech founders funded by Precursor Ventures and Kapor Capital.
Fixt offers on-demand mobile device repair at the push of a button, allowing users to request technicians to come to their home or office to repair broken devices. The tech firm says it has technicians all over the world, and average less than 20 minutes to get a device working. In March, Fixt CEO Luke Cooper announced that he had closed on $2 million in follow-on seed funding round led by Precursor Ventures.
Precursor Managing Partner Charles Hudson talked about his decision to invest in Cooper in USA Today.
“From the first time I met Luke, I could tell that he and the team had spent a lot of time getting their model right and were on to something big,” Hudson said.
New investors in the round also include New York-based ConnectedVentures and Northern Right Capital, which was founded by investor Matt Drapkin.
Cooper said he planned to use the money to expand operations, invest in sales staff, and bolster the technological infrastructure of the company.
Leandrew Robinson. Photo: Precursor
HingeTo is an inventory management platform for fashion brands. Its founder, Oakland entrepreneur Leandrew Robinson has been through the Y Combinator startup accelerator, been backed by Troy Carter and Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein, Recently he turned to NFL star Marshawn Lynch to help him sell his turnkey service for athletes to build and sell their own branded products, according to Forbes.
Hingeto and Lynch’s Beast Mode brand launched their “create-a-brand” platform promising end-to-end brand support for athletes or those with loyal fanbases who want to sell their own apparel outside of the control of gatekeepers such as Adidas or Nike. Hingeto helps with the brand’s designs and manages the commerce on the back end, from a webstore to production and fulfillment.
Early users include NFL players Cliff Avril, Spencer Ware and Marcus Peters, model Gracie Carvalho and NBA player Jaylen Brown, Forbes reported.
FieldVision builds unmanned cameras to automatically film and stream any sporting event. The unmanned FieldCam camera detects where the action is on the field. Users can set it up and let it automatically pan and tilt to follow the flow of the game. A coach on the sideline can use the footage to review a play on their mobile app instantaneously, or a parent in the workplace can watch live or recorded film.
FieldVision focused on a core problem in the media and broadcasting space: most of the focus is centered around the professional and D1 level, said FieldVision co-founder Kavodel Ohiomoba in a Medium post. The high cost of filming and live-streaming games makes them prohibitive at the youth, high school, and D2/D3-college tiers:
“Our mission is to ensure that parents and fans have access to every game, and to give coaches real-time access to film and highlights for half-time and post-game analysis. Our technology is powered by computer vision, and we’re building a cost-effective, unmanned camera that automatically follows the action in any sports game.”
David Williams Photo: Precursor
Care3 is a healthcare tech solution inspired by the realization that the most vulnerable members of our society lack equal access to healthcare and receive inadequate quality of care in their homes and communities. Care3 is built to fix these unacceptable and unnecessary inequities.
Precursor Ventures has Care3 listed in its portfolio of investments.
The Care3 model of community, care and collaboration aims to keep patients living independently and comfortably in their homes. Founded by three former Aetna executives, Care3 supports care programs that require collaboration between interdisciplinary care providers, patients, and family caregivers on the same platform. Its goal is to improve outcomes and reduce hospital readmissions for underserved populations including people of color, the disabled and seniors.
In April 2017, Care3 was recognized as one of the most promising healthcare communication solution providers by Healthcare Tech Outlook. This ranking identified Care3 as a leading developer of digital health technology:
“Care3’s selection was based on creating a truly collaborative platform for providers and families to deliver consistent high quality care for underserved populations,” said Alex D’ Souza, managing editor of Healthcare Tech Outlook. “Care3 is addressing a major problem that many of our readers have been urgently trying to solve.”
Pigeonly collects and organizes data on inmates, transforming it into usable information that can benefit inmates and society. Its inmate population database, Haystac, allows users to find an inmate in county, state, and federal correctional systems. Pigeonly says it has created a solution for communities that need solutions the most:
“As a small team of creative rebels we have a collaborative culture built on hacking ideas, code, and business models specifically for underserved communities.”
Pigeonly products connect inmates with their families through low-cost phone and mail services.
The business venture began after co-founder Frederick Hutson served a four-year sentence for mailing marijuana via FedEx, UPS, and DHL, according to The Source. He was busted at his Las Vegas mail store.
While he was still in a halfway house in 2013, Hutson and his co-founder Alfonzo Brooks launched a version of Pigeonly. They quickly got 2,000 customers by directly mailing inmates.
Pigeonly centralizes multiple state-level databases making it easy to find where an inmate is in the system. Sub-brand Fotopigeon sends digital prints to inmates and Telepigeon lowers phone call rates through VoIP. Pigeonly brought in $1 million revenue in its first year following $2 million in seed financing from Silicon Valley investors inlcuding Erik Moore at Base Ventures and Kapor Capital.
Key to this was getting accepted to NewMe, a Silicon Valley-based accelerator for underrepresented minorities. It was the only accelerator that accepted Hutson, The Source reported:
“A lot of times a thing that can be perceived as a weakness actually turn into the greatest strength and for me it was that. It actually became the reason people invested…because I’d been there, and I know and understand this market better than anybody else,” Hutson said.
Andrew D’Souza. Photo: Precursor
Andrew D’Souza is co-founder and CEO of Clearbanc, a banking services startup that helps self-employed Americans such as freelancers and entrepreneurs get paid faster. He started investing before he was a teenager and worked in several tech roles before co-founding Clearbanc. These include being COO of educational software company Top Hat and president of Nymi, a biometrics authentication software and tech company.
“I never really wanted a lot of things,” D’Souza said in an interview in The Globe. “I always found that owning stuff feels like more of a burden to me than brings me joy. Even now, I rent furnished apartments; I don’t own a car. It allows me to keep my lifestyle flexible and keep a lot of cash flow going through. That allows me to take most of my earnings, especially early in my career, and put them in index funds … and to invest in startups.”
D’Souza is in the Precursor Ventures portfolio of investments. He talks here about the things he likes to invest in:
About two-thirds of my investments are in low-cost ETFs (exchange-traded funds) through Wealthsimple and in my own trading account. I’m also a private investor in a handful of technology companies such as Wealthsimple, Tulip Retail, Top Hat, Street Contxt and of course my own company, Clearbanc. All of these private investments are high risk, but I know the businesses, I know the founders and the teams intimately and I know I can actually have an impact beyond just providing capital. I can actually help them grow the business and have some kind of impact on the outcomes of the investment.
You have to have a big enough portfolio where, if any of them fail – which happens in startups – you have enough really big wins that you still have positive returns. I have a few companies that have grown 10 times in a couple of years. Those really buoy the returns.
Kellee James. Photo: LinkedIn/Kapor Capital
Mercaris claims to be helping grow organic and non-GMO agriculture in the U.S. It has a market data service providing information on market conditions for organic and non-GMO commodities (think along the lines of Bloomberg data for high-brow corn) and a trading platform that allows buyers and sellers to meet online and trade commodities. The development of sustainable agriculture is at a critical point, according to Mercaris:
While some resources are in place to educate consumers, address public policy, and support scientific research on sustainable agricultural crops, far less emphasis has been placed on the market infrastructure upon which participants, from producers to retailers, depend. Mercaris was formed to address this gap.
Kellee James, co-founder and CEO of Mercaris, has a career journey that spans professional horse riding, a stint as a White House fellow in 2009 and tech startup founder. She talked about why she focuses on GMOs in a Jobbio interview:
The idea was really simple…These are commodities that were produced under special conditions, that in the case of organic, take into account environmental factors. The production is very different and because consumer demand and consumption has also been so different, these markets behave very differently than conventional ones. We decided that no one else was covering these markets in a rigorous way and we should be the first to do it.
James said in a 2016 Fast Company report that everyone struggles with the mandate to make tech more diverse. At Mercaris, she admits she has had trouble hiring candidates of color, not because they’re not out there — she knows they are — but existing networks make it harder and more time-consuming to get diverse candidates in the door:
“Everyone should be working on inclusion and diversity; no one can sit back and say, ‘We’re just fine.”
She has been funded by eBay-founding billionaire Pierre Omidyar. “When Omidyar wrote a check, it built a lot of confidence for subsequent investors, including Freada Kapor Klein and Joanne Wilson. (These names … come up again and again in the small world of VC investment in black female founders,” according to Fast Company.
SendHub is a business-focused call and messaging solution that offers free and low-cost telecommunication options. These include free phone numbers in any area code accessible on any device and instant analytics with a click. SendHub was acquired by Cameo Global in June 2016.
The company raised $2 million in seed funding from Kapor Capital, among others, including an undisclosed investment from former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, Tech Crunch reported. Another $3 million was raised in Series A funding, the company announced in 2013. The round also included Kapor.
Garrett Johnson, co-founder of SendHub, was identified as one of Newsmax‘s 25 Most Influential Republicans in Tech. Now executive director and co-founder of the Lincoln Network, he’s considered a leader in building up and organizing right-leaning thinkers in the tech community in an effort to affect public policy with tech solutions.
Johnson served from 2009 to 2011 on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Johnson got the idea for SendHub learning of the challenge teachers in his native Tampa neighborhood had in communicating with parents, according to a 2012 BET report:
As is the case in low-income, African-American communities around the nation, many households don’t have the same access to computers or the internet as they do to text-enabled mobile phones, BET reported.
This was a pervasive problem at the small charter school attended by his nephew, who, like most bright kids, still forgot to turn in assignments or left behind his backpack from time to time. And while teachers could contact parents via text message, that meant sacrificing the privacy of their personal cell phone numbers.
“I promised to try to figure out a way for them to communicate over SMS more efficiently without having to use their phones,” Johnson told BET.”
Brian Brackeen is the founder of Kairos, a Miami-based facial recognition company that is working with companies to change the way they interact with their employees, patients, and customers.
Kairos is the only facial biometrics company in the world offering both facial recognition and emotion analysis tools for developers.
“We capture decisive moments in people’s behavior to empower companies with meaningful metrics,” Brackeen said on his LinkedIn page, according to an earlier Moguldom report. “At Kairos, we believe that data as we know it today is just the beginning for business intelligence. Our mission is to radically change how companies understand people.”
“Our diversity is our advantage, Brackeen said in a Kairos blog:
“The Kairos family was founded on the principles of empathy, integrity and freedom – we are a culturally rich team and have a bias for inclusion. And to borrow the words of (Denise Young Smith) vice president of worldwide human resources at Apple:
“Diversity is more than any one gender, race, or ethnicity. It’s richly representative of all people, all backgrounds, and all perspectives. It is the entire human experience.”
Here’s what Mitch Kapor, a partner at Kapor Capital and Kairos investor, said about the face of technology in the U.S.:
“Today the tech industry does not look like America, and that has a significant influence on the types of products and services that get created. When the lived experience of underrepresented communities is omitted from the product development cycle, the usefulness of the technology becomes biased towards one group.”